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The Rinko Mystery - Part 1/2

Author: Sinnatious

Rating: PG-13 for violence

Summary:
 Echizen Rinko isn’t around very often. But Ryoma thought it had been an unusually long time since he’d last seen his mother.

Words: 12,529.  I had to split it into two chapters due to LJ's size limit.  Link to the second chapter should be at the bottom.  (Or will be in a matter of minutes). 

Author’s Note: This was borne from an online discussion about Rinko’s conspicuous absence in canon. You see her from behind once or twice, and get the impression that she’s there off-camera, and there was that flashback ‘how they met’ episode, but THAT’S IT. For 175+ episodes and however many volumes the manga is, that struck me as almost creepy. So… this fic was borne. 

For the record, I hate this genre with a passion. That probably comes through with this piece. I'm a bit of a wuss, and outright refuse to watch most scary movies.  Needless to say, I probably won’t be dabbling in this genre again.  At least Tezuka made his way in there, even though this isn't really TezRyo.

Also, it appears that I have a subconscious hatred of Nanjiroh that cannot be explained.  I have given up on trying to rectify this and have instead decided to embrace it.  Consider yourselves warned.
 




___________________________
 
 
The Rinko Mystery
 
By Sinnatious
 
___________________________
 
 
It was a standard morning in the Echizen household. Ryoma continually hit the snooze button on his alarm, until Karupin jumped up onto his bed and started pawing at his face. With a groan, he rolled over, glanced at the clock, and dragged himself from bed.
 
Ten minutes later, the Seigaku freshman was – rather sloppily – dressed and ambling down the stairs. He shuffled into the kitchen where his father and cousin were already eating breakfast.
 
“Where’s ‘kaa-san?” he asked, mid-yawn.
 
“Left for work early,” his father replied.
 
“Aunt Rinko sure works hard,” Nanako commented. “Weekends now, too!”
 
Nanjiroh grunted in acknowledgement as he opened the paper. “Good thing we’ve got darling Nanako-chan to help out!” he sang.
 
Ryoma sleepily flopped onto his seat at the table. It was a Japanese breakfast. He started eating with a slurred ‘thanks for the meal’. 
 
Already finished, Nanako stood and started busying herself about the kitchen. “Oh, Auntie left her magazine here,” she noted, picking it up.
 
“Hah! And she complains about MY magazines! At least I don’t leave mine lying around!”
 
“Hers are business magazines,” Ryoma pointed out, starting to wake up.
 
Nanako diplomatically just suggested, “I’ll go put it on the coffee table with the others, shall I?” She folded down the corner of the page the magazine was open on and added it to the pile of older issues in the living room. Ryoma barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. His cousin was so thoughtful sometimes he was convinced she was a saint.
 
Karupin pattered into the kitchen. His father saw, picking up his favourite toy off the ground with his toes and waving it in the air. “Hora, hora!”
 
The Himalayan cat hissed, and suddenly latched on to the toe with his teeth. “Owowowowowow! Stupid cat!” Nanjiroh dropped his newspaper and shook his foot. Karupin darted away with toy in mouth.
 
Ryoma smirked. “That’s what you get for being stupid,” he remarked, leaning down to pet his cat as he twined himself around his legs with a mew. Glancing at the clock, he swallowed down the last of his breakfast. “I’m leaving.”
 
Nanako reminded him to drink his two glasses of milk, made him button his shirt properly, and saw him off on his way to school. Halfway there, Momoshiro rode up on his bike and Ryoma hopped on to the back. They arrived to morning practice just in time to avoid running laps. 
 
It was a typical morning, just like any other.

___________________________________
 
 
Ryoma slumped down on his seat at the table and glared at the western-style breakfast on the plate. “’Kaaaaa-san!” he called. There was no response. A moment later Nanjiroh ambled into the kitchen, yawning and scratching his stomach.
 
“Too loud for so early in the morning.” The old man flopped into his own chair and opened the newspaper.
 
“Where’s ‘kaa-san?” Ryoma asked irritably.
 
“How should I know?” his father retorted grumpily. “I just woke up myself. Ask your cousin.”
 
As if summoned, Nanako appeared in the doorway. “Oh, sorry Ryoma. It looks like Auntie left for work early again. She left a note on the fridge, though!” She handed over the piece of paper to Nanjiroh, who glanced at it and snorted.  
 
“Writing in English again. How much more practice do we need?” He carelessly threw the piece of paper to his son. Ryoma glanced at the messy English letters and frowned. He wasn’t quite awake yet, but he pushed the fog away from his brain long enough to decipher the note.
 
“That’s weird.”
 
“What’s weird?”
 
“She spelt ‘breakfast’ wrong.”
 
That got the old man’s attention. “What? No way.”
 
“See? ‘Brakefast’.”
 
Nanjiroh squinted at the slip of paper at length. “Ha! And after all that harping on about practicing English she gives us! We can lord it up next time, boy!” He grinned widely at that.
 
“Uncle!” Nanako scolded. “Auntie is probably just tired. You shouldn’t rub in a small mistake like that. She was probably in a rush.”
 
“Whatever you say, Nanako-chaaaan!” Nanjiroh sang, returning his attention to the paper. 
 
“I still worry about Aunt Rinko, though,” Nanako continued, joining them at the table. “It’s not healthy to work so much. Do you think maybe she’d like it if I made her a bento and brought it to her at work?”
 
“That’s a pretty big commute,” Nanjiroh commented.
 
“I’m not that busy. I’m sure I could find the time. Maybe not today, but later in the week. Or even on the weekend, so Ryoma can come?” she asked hopefully.
 
Ryoma grunted noncommittally. He didn’t particular want to spend his precious free time riding the train for an hour and a half just to visit his mother’s boring workplace for five minutes.
 
After a few minutes, his father commented. “She probably wouldn’t have a business lunch on the weekend. We could do it then.”
 
Nanako smiled brightly. “Oh, Uncle will come too? I think it will be wonderful. I’m sure Auntie will really appreciate the gesture.”
 
Ryoma frowned at his father. Since when was the old man so thoughtful? “Did she threaten your magazines again?”
 
“Cheeky brat.”
 
Ryoma shrugged, chugging down his second glass of milk and standing. “I’m leaving.”
 
“Have a good day at school!” Nanako called after him cheerily.
 
He missed Momoshiro on the way to school that morning and was ten minutes late for morning practice. Tezuka made him run a lap for each minute.
 
___________________________________ 
 
 
Ryoma sleepily chewed on his Japanese-style breakfast while his cousin and father chatted in the background. 
 
“Thank you so much for the tickets, Uncle,” she said sheepishly. “Listening to Aunt Rinko talk about America so much…”
 
“It’s least I can do for my delightful Nanako-chan!” his father exclaimed, though his enthusiasm was blatantly overdramatic. “Who is so cute and helps out around the house so much while my lovely wife is so busy!” The starry eyes turned into a dull deadpan as he turned to his son. “Unlike some uncute kids I could mention.”
 
“Not my fault I was born male,” Ryoma replied in an equally flat tone.
 
Ignoring the exchange, Nanako continued cheerily, “Are you sure, though? I mean, I know it’s expensive…”
 
Nanjiroh waved it off. “My friend had to reschedule, and couldn’t cancel the tickets. Sorry it’s such short notice.”
 
“No, no, the fact that I get to go at all… Are you sure you’ll be able to manage while I’m gone, though? Aunt Rinko is already so overworked…”
 
“I can help out too, you know!” Nanjiroh squawked indignantly. “I’m a grown man!”
 
Ryoma muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath. His father glared at him, and whacked him on the head with his rolled-up newspaper.
 
“Let’s see… I get back on the 25th,” Nanako recalled, tapping a finger to her lips. “That’s quite a while. Are you sure-
 
“Of course I’m sure, Nanako-chan!” His father insisted. “Though it pains my heart that I won’t be seeing your lovely face for so loooong!”
 
Nanako giggled. “Stop being so silly, Uncle.”
 
“Perverted is more like it,” Ryoma muttered. He managed to dodge the newspaper this time, standing and heading towards the door. “I’m leaving.”
 
“Don’t forget your racquet bag!” Nanako called after him.
 
As if. That would be like forgetting one of his arms.
 
 
___________________________________ 
 
 
 
Ryoma slept in on Sunday – for once there was no tennis practice. He finally wandered downstairs around lunchtime. The television was blaring in the living room, but the house was otherwise silent. 
 
That left him off-kilter briefly, until he remembered that Nanako had left for her trip while he was at school the day before. “What’s for lunch?” Ryoma called out.
 
“Your mother made breakfast for you before she left this morning. You can eat that for lunch,” his father said, not taking his eyes from the television.
 
Ryoma headed to the fridge, peered inside and eventually located a plate covered in cling-wrap. He threw it in the microwave to reheat it, and then sat down at the table to eat. He wrinkled his nose after the first few bites, suddenly missing Nanako. Maybe his mother wasn’t as good a cook as he remembered.
 
He ate leisurely, and then took delight in only drinking only one of the two prescribed glasses of milk. Once that was done, he wandered into the living room to see what was so fascinating on television. Maybe there were some tennis matches on.
 
“You’re watching… what are you watching?” It definitely wasn’t tennis.
 
“Some lawyer show,” his father replied with a yawn.
 
“Why are you watching that?” His father watched a lot of rubbish on television, but it was usually either sports or something with an attractive woman in it. This show didn’t seem to feature either.
 
“Can’t find my magazine,” he grunted, eyes transfixed on the screen in front of him.
 
Figures. “Shouldn’t you be minding the shrine?”
 
“It’ll be okay for a while.”
 
Karupin wandered into the room, paws making an almost inaudible patter on the tatami mats. His father reached out absentmindedly to rub his head as he passed, but the Himalayan cat hissed and swiped at his hand.
 
Ow! Crazy cat! What was that for?!”
 
Ryoma crouched down and Karupin ran over into his arms. His father glared at the cat, still cradling his bleeding hand. “You were there.” His voice was accusing.
 
Ryoma rolled his eyes. “Don’t blame Karupin for your misplaced magazine.” He stroked the top of the cat’s head soothingly, but Karupin kept a steely eye on his father all the same.
 
Nanjiroh huffed, and turned back to the television, grumbling under his breath.
 
Ryoma spent the afternoon hanging around the street courts and arcades with Momoshiro. When he got home, he played a rather lazy game of tennis with his father, and then they ordered take-out for dinner. As far as Sundays went, it was okay. It was only when he getting into bed that night that Ryoma remembered Nanako had been planning to bring his mother lunch at work that day; at least, until her impromptu trip to America. The guilt only lasted for the few minutes it took him to fall asleep.
 

___________________________________ 
 
 
It wasn’t a very good day. That morning Ryoma had forgotten his racquet bag – he’d been seeing himself off in the mornings, and without Nanako there mothering over him, he usually missed something. He wasn’t exactly at his best right after he’d woken up, but he’d been miffed about forgetting the racquet bag of all things, especially since the time spent going back to fetch it made him so late for morning practice that the captain ordered him to spend the remainder just running laps, thus defeating the whole point of going back to fetch it in the first place. Then Inui had broken out the juice during drills in afternoon practice, and managed to make the requirements for avoiding the supposedly ‘healthy’ drink so impossible that everyone except Tezuka was going home with stomachaches. 
 
Given the currently tumultuous nature of his digestive system, Ryoma was hoping that for a change they might actually be able to have a home-cooked meal instead of take-out. Nanako wasn’t going to be back for another two weeks, and he didn’t think he could last that long on takeaway food. Surely whatever case his mother was working on should be finished soon?
 
“I’m home!” he called out automatically, but didn’t receive a response. He hadn’t expected one – the old man was supposed to be minding the shrine during the day after all.
 
He paused. Something was different. After a moment, he realised that the shoes in the foyer had changed. For a second, Ryoma was heartened by the thought that his mother might actually be home, but his eyes immediately slid to the empty spot next to them. Oh, she’d just switched shoes. He wasn’t sure if he was reassured by the evidence of her fleeting presence, or depressed that he’d missed it.
 
The afternoon was spent completing his homework and playing with Karupin. When Ryoma came downstairs near dinnertime, Nanjiroh was lounging in the living room with a pile of magazines. He was apparently enjoying the freedom of being able to read whatever he wanted in full view without either his wife or niece nagging him about it.
 
“’Kaa-san was here today?” Ryoma asked without preamble.
 
“Yeah, she came home to change clothes while you were still at school,” his father replied disinterestedly.
 
“Oh.” No hope of a home-cooked dinner after all then. Though with the way breakfast had tasted lately, maybe that wasn’t such a loss. Takeout was probably better than food made in a rush. “Where are we ordering from today then?”
 
Nanjiroh waved him towards the refrigerator. “Just choose one of the menus on the fridge.”
 
At least takeout meant that there weren’t any dishes to clean. The kitchen was always tidied in the mornings, but Ryoma felt a tiny bit guilty about leaving dirty dishes out when his mother was already had so much work to do. His father seemed to think it was okay, though, so he didn’t spare it any more thought.
 

___________________________________ 
 
 
 
Morning practice had ended, and everyone was getting changed in the clubroom. “Hey, Echizen…” Momoshiro stopped in the middle of buttoning up his uniform and peered at him. “Something’s different.”
 
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
 
“Is it the hair… no… maybe…” His friend scratched his head. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
 
“Echizen’s uniform appears to be un-ironed,” Inui interjected, saving Momoshiro the agony of figuring it out himself. “An anomaly.”
 
Ryoma blanched. “You have to iron these things too?”
 
“Of course,” Fuji answered. “Have you been doing your laundry yourself?”
 
“Ochibi is so mature, nya!” Eiji hollered from the other side of the clubroom.
 
“Doesn’t your mother do that stuff for you?” Momoshiro asked as he finished putting on his uniform.
 
Ryoma frowned. “She’s been working lots of overtime.”   It was probably already a stretch for his mother to keep preparing breakfast for them in the mornings before she left – it was a bit much to hope she could manage the laundry as well. Nanako normally took care of it, but with his cousin out of the picture and quickly running out of clean clothes, Ryoma had been forced to give himself a crash course in clothes washing. Typically, his father was of absolutely no use. But then it wasn’t like the old man to ever do anything that would actually get his clothes dirty.
 
“Echizen Rinko, maiden name Takeuchi,” Inui recited. “Met and married Echizen Nanjiroh in the United States fifteen years ago. Is currently employed as an attorney.”
 
“How do you know all this stuff Inui-senpai?” Momoshiro exclaimed; looking just a little freaked out.
 
“You take care of the housework at home?” Oishi asked kindly. “I didn’t know.”
 
“Just recently,” he mumbled. “My cousin’s away on holidays, and my mother’s been busy for the past few…” Ryoma trailed off. Thinking about it critically, when was the last time he’d seen his mother? Sure, he sometimes went a couple of days without seeing her at all, but now that he thought about it… he was having trouble remembering exactly when the last time he’d laid eyes on her face was.
 
There was plenty of evidence of her arriving home late and leaving in the morning, though. Different shoes in the foyer. Breakfast covered in cling wrap. The occasional note on the fridge in curly English handwriting. One of her business magazines left open on the couch. A tidy kitchen.
 
Before Nanako had left on her holiday, he hadn’t really noticed. But without his cousin’s presence filling the house, his mother’s absence felt a little more pronounced. And the longer he thought about it, the more disturbed he became.
 
He’d been annoyed before that his mother was too busy to even stay for breakfast or be at home on weekends. Now, though… it was a little unusual. The last time he could remember seeing his mother for sure was the day before his English test – she’d scolded him for not studying or taking the subject seriously, and insisted on speaking in English all through breakfast.
 
That had been a couple of weeks ago now.
 
That just wasn’t natural, was it? 
 
He turned it over in his head again and again. Was work really that busy? Or did she just not want to see her family? He knew that she often got cross with the old man when he did nothing other than laze about the house reading porn magazines, but Ryoma didn’t see why he should be punished for it.
 
“Don’t overwork yourself, okay?” Oishi looked worried. “It’s a lot of responsibility for someone your age.” Ryoma was still too absorbed in his contemplation to protest the implication that he was still a kid. The vice-captain started straightening his collar. “Here, if it sits like this…”
 
Ryoma wasn’t quite so out of it to not protest that. “It’s fine, Oishi-senpai. Thanks anyway.”
 
Tezuka entered the clubroom just then, saving him from further embarrassment. “What are you all still doing in here? Class starts in ten minutes! Get moving!”
 

___________________________________ 
 
 
 
Ryoma contemplated the strange situation with his mother for most of the day, and by that afternoon reached a conclusion – he’d just wait up and ask her himself. 
 
Unfortunately, he only lasted until eleven o’clock before he dozed off. He woke up sometime in the early hours of the morning with a sore neck and crawled into bed, a little bit annoyed at missing his chance. He hadn’t expected his mother to come home that late.
 
Put out by his failure, Ryoma came prepared the next night. He was determined. Armed with four cans of sugary, caffeinated Ponta to help keep him awake, Ryoma settled by his window after changing into his pyjamas and turning off the light, eyes firmly fixated on the front path. He had a clear view – there was no way he’d miss his mother’s arrival home. She’d be cross when she found him waiting up far past his bed time when he had school the next day, but he’d just make up for the lost sleep in English class or something. He needed to remember what she looked like. It was silly, but he had this irrational fear that if he didn’t see her, he might forget.
 
Lights in the street, barely visible through the trees in the front yard, started to wink out one by one. The air began to cool, and Ryoma idly wondered if perhaps he should drag a blanket to the window before deciding that such comfort might compromise his plan to stay awake. He then bargained with the idea of grabbing the blanket and setting up camp in the foyer, so that when his mother came home he’d be woken up automatically, but the chances of his father finding him and sending him off to bed were too high. The old man would probably make fun of him for missing his mother, and he’d never hear the end of it. Better he just keep vigil.
 
It occurred to him sometime around midnight that it might have been smarter to ask his father about her persistent absence instead of staying up to see for himself. It was too late, though – the old man was probably already in bed, and he’d stayed up this far. Might as well see it through. Ryoma shifted uncomfortably, feeling stiff and tired. He gave up and wrapped himself in a blanket, but cracked open a Ponta. The hiss of air escaping as he broke the seal seemed unnaturally loud.
 
Around two in the morning, his eyelids were drooping and a cold heaviness started to settle into his bones. The house was almost oppressively silent. Even Karupin was asleep, curled up comfortably next to him on the bed. He was sort of tempted to give up. The trains had already stopped running. Where was his mother? She wouldn’t get any sleep at all, arriving home so late. Ryoma cracked open another Ponta to chase away the fatigue. The normally sweet beverage tasted dull on his tongue. He probably should have brought some snacks to even it out.
 
The night wore on. If it weren’t for the regular hits of caffeine, Ryoma doubted he would have been able to keep his eyes open. It didn’t help that just watching the front path like that was really boring. Every now and again a car would rumble past, the headlights distorting the shadows and painting the garden white, but it was otherwise completely still and silent. There wasn’t even a breeze – Ryoma might as well have been staring at a photograph. He acknowledged that he really should have given up when the trains stopped running, but stubbornness had set in now. He jerked his drooping head up and glared out the window. His eyes felt dry, but he resisted the urge to close them.
 
The sun was starting to peek above the horizon at five a.m. Ryoma heard a series of uncoordinated thumps from his father’s room, then the scuff of bare feet walking down the stairs. What was the stupid old man doing up so early?
 
He kept his eyes focused on the front path, ignoring the barely audible sounds of his father clattering around downstairs. It was mostly just automatic, now. His mind had turned blank after the caffeine hit from the last Ponta wore off. It felt like his mouth was full of sand. He was actually looking forward to brushing his teeth. 
 
At 6am, Karupin got up and stretched, then twined himself around his ankles. Ryoma petted him absent-mindedly. Half an hour later, his alarm started to beep. It jerked him from his hazy trance.
 
It was time to get ready for school.
 
Robotically, Ryoma got dressed, yawning hugely as he did so. At the regular time he shuffled sleepily down the stairs. His father was, as usual, sitting at the kitchen table with the newspaper open. 
 
“Breakfast is in the fridge,” he grunted.
 
Ryoma headed to the fridge. Sure enough, there was a cling-wrap covered plate sitting inside.
 
He sent his father an odd look. The old man glanced over. “What?”
 
“…Nothing.” He withdrew the meal from the fridge, slouched down at the table and started eating. He wasn’t sure if it was just his exhaustion or all the Ponta messing with his tastebuds, but it tasted like soggy cardboard. Breakfast was finished in silence.
 
“I’m leaving.”
 
“See you this afternoon,” his father replied distractedly, still reading the paper.
 
Ryoma checked that he had everything and then went to the foyer to put on his shoes. He paused. The shoes had changed again. The blue pair of low heels was there instead of the black pair.
 
That sight seemed to chase away the last of the exhaustion-induced fogginess hovering over him. He’d stayed awake all night – he hadn’t dozed off for even an instant, however tempting it had been. Yet that morning the shoes had changed and there was a plate of breakfast in the fridge covered in cling wrap.
 
Only his mother hadn’t ever come home to change shoes or make breakfast.
 
Which meant…
 
Ryoma swallowed harshly.
 
What exactly did it mean?
 
 
___________________________________ 
 
 
 
Ryoma shuffled through the day like a zombie. His classmates couldn’t even rouse him at the end of English class, so he wound up sleeping through Maths as well. Another two cans of Ponta at lunch gave him the energy to stay awake at least, though he wasn’t looking forward to afternoon practice.
 
Momoshiro stared at him when he entered the clubroom. “Whoa, Echizen, you look even more tired now than you did this morning.”
 
“Echizen is certainly not a morning person,” Inui agreed, “But I’m surprised to find him looking like this in the afternoon.”
 
Oishi was immediately set to worrying. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?”
 
Rubbing at his eyes, he waved his senpai off. “I just didn’t sleep very much last night.” Thinking about why was enough to chase away the exhaustion. Ryoma frowned. It had been bugging him all day, but the thoughts refused to settle in his head.
 
Maybe his mother had finally left his father.  He found it hard to believe she'd do so without at least saying goodbye to him, but it wasn't so hard to imagine her getting fed up with Nanjiroh's laziness and just leaving in a temper with a suitcase of clothes.  She'd been getting on her husband’s case a lot more recently - maybe her patience had snapped, and the old man didn’t want to admit it so was constructing elaborate stories about why his mother wasn’t coming home. His father might even be trying to protect him from the truth.

It was definitely possible.  The only issue he could see with that scenario was Nanako.  Surely Nanako would have known about something like that? 

Maybe... maybe she was in on it.  Maybe she didn't want him to feel bad, so she was going along with it.  Maybe that was even why she'd gone to America.  Maybe his mother had fled to America, and instead of a holiday, maybe Nanako was going to try and convince his mother to come back!

He desperately wanted to believe that.  Because the alternative...

Ryoma shook his head quickly as though to chase the thoughts away.  That was absurd.  He'd been watching too many movies. It was probably the lack of sleep getting to him.
 
“Echizen? Helloooooo, Echizen?” Momoshiro called, waving a hand in front of his face.
 
Blinking, Ryoma turned to his senpai. “What?”
 
“You really are out of it. Maybe you should skip practice. Oooiii, Tezuka-buchou!”
 
“What is it?” The captain turned towards them.
 
“Is it okay if Echizen doesn’t come to practice today? He’s sort of-”
 
“What are you doing?” Ryoma hissed. “I’m fine. Leave it.”
 
Tezuka came over. “What’s the matter?”
 
“He’s been all hazy all day,” Momoshiro reported. “He didn’t sleep much last night. I just thought that he might be better off going home and getting rest.”
 
“I’m fine,” Ryoma insisted even as he struggled to push back a yawn. “I got some sleep in class.” He wasn’t altogether comfortable with the idea of heading home straight away. Going home meant that he’d have to think about issues he’d much rather ignore in favour of tennis.
 
Tezuka gave him a dubious glance. “If you say so.” He turned to the rest of the clubhouse. “Team meeting on the court in five minutes!”
 
Practice was a complete disaster. The only good thing was that Inui’s Super Deluxe Energy Re-vitalizing Juice woke him up better than ten cans of Ponta could.

 
___________________________________ 

 
 
The doorbell rang, and Ryoma headed to answer it with Karupin hot on his heels. He took the packed bowls of ramen from the delivery boy and handed over some money. Karupin mewed, getting underfoot as he took the food to the table. 
 
“Food’s here?” Nanjiroh asked, coming into the kitchen. “About time!” He reached out to take his order from Ryoma. “Hey- OwowowowOW!” He nearly dropped the bowl, hopping away on one foot. Karupin leapt backwards, hissing. “Damn cat!”
 
“Karupin,” Ryoma scolded, crouching down and grabbing his cat. “This food isn’t for you.”
 
His father was glaring at the cat. Feeling a little nervous now, Ryoma drew Karupin closer, stroking his soft white fur softly. After a moment his father turned away, grabbing two pairs of chopsticks. “Che. C’mon, brat, let’s eat.”
 
Ryoma quietly took a seat across from his father. He suddenly didn’t have much appetite, but cracked open the lid on his ramen anyway, and bit back the complaint on his tongue. Of course they couldn’t have home-cooked meals if his mother wasn’t coming home. He’d just have to endure until Nanako got back.
 
“How was school?” his father asked gruffly, in a tone of voice that suggested that he didn’t much care either way but was obligated to ask as the only adult around.
 
“Fine,” Ryoma replied tonelessly.
 
“That club of yours is going okay?”
 
“Yeah.” What more could he really say? 
 
Silence. 
 
He stared at his father as he ate. He wasn’t acting any different than usual. His behaviour was perfectly ordinary, perfectly unworried. He didn’t think the old man was that good of an actor, but then, he guessed his father had never been really motivated before.
 
There were a million questions burning in his throat, but all of them died on the tip of his tongue.
 
It would be so simple to ask, to find out for sure... but Ryoma was afraid of the answer.

Because if it wasn’t that his mother had stormed out, if that wasn’t why she had disappeared...

His fingers tightened around the chopsticks.  Nanjiroh glanced up from his food, chewing on a mouthful of noodles.  "What?"

"Nothing," he replied in a small voice.

If he asked, and he was wrong... what would his father do?
 
 
___________________________________ 
 
 
 
The week passed painfully slowly. Ryoma continued to fervently believe that his mother would be coming back any day, but it was impossible not to be unnerved by the changing shoes in the foyer or cling-wrapped meals in the fridge or half-read business magazines on the couch when he knew it was his father responsible for it. It just didn’t sit right with him.
 
Nanjiroh was lazy. That was the first thing anyone who knew him would say about the man, even before ‘he’s good at tennis’. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to go to in order to save face or spare his son the turmoil of discovering his mother had run off. 
 
Maybe if his father had shown some visible signs of unusual behaviour, stress, anything, he’d have a better clue of how to read the situation. If his mother had left, it would be natural for the man to be cranky or moody, but his father acted exactly the same as he always did. He’d laze about the shrine all day reading his magazines, then laze around the house at night watching television.
 
In fact, the only change in his father’s behaviour was that he didn’t ask him to play tennis anymore. They didn’t necessarily play every day, but Ryoma estimated that they’d probably only played a handful of times since his mother had disappeared, which was a rather sharp drop off in frequency. And they were never proper games, either – his father never wanted to move around much, so wouldn’t go from side to side to serve or change courts. Ryoma thought it an absolute mockery of the game, but the old man was still light years ahead of him so he couldn’t really say anything. He’d just thought it was his father being stupid again, but the correlation of the change in their games and his mother’s disappearance was starting to bug him. 
 
That other horrible possibility was like a growing itch at the back of skull that he couldn’t quite ignore, even though he really wanted to.
 
Ryoma was starting to become less trusting of coincidences.
 
It was all too complicated. He really wasn’t sure what to do. He couldn’t just outright accuse his father, or even tell someone else. He’d look stupid and paranoid if he were wrong. But he couldn’t just do nothing, either. 
 
If it were more like tennis, he wouldn’t be having this problem. Tennis was simple. Ryoma understood tennis. But this…
 
He didn’t know anything for sure, but even the suspicion… the notion…
 
It wasn’t possible, was it?
 
His father couldn’t possibly be a murderer.
 
But what if he was?
 

___________________________________


On to Part 2

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
jade_peace
Jun. 10th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
EEee! I love you, I love you!

I'll read the second part when I come home - but so far, this is AMAZING.
firedraygon97
Jun. 10th, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
wtfffffff since you were talking about how you didn't like this genre I kept thinking this was going to be some sci-fi/horror body snatchers fic or something. XDDD;

*runs off to read the next part!*
pat_ace87
Jun. 10th, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
OOOOOOOO__________OOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!
OH WOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU'VE GOT SEATING ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT LEANING FORWARD BITTING MY NAILS WONDERING WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO RINKO OOOOOOO_________OOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
iluxia
Jun. 10th, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC)
I'm midway.

..........why can't I help the niggling feeling that something is off?

>.>;; I maybe reading too far in?

*further down* OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH. *iz haz a clue*

ROFL. Ryoma, that's...... probably taking it a bit too far. XD Though I wouldn't deny the healthy possibility...
ichinonaru
Jun. 14th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
OMG I wanna read but I have to sleep now and I'm soo dead tired coz I just got home. I attended a ToyCon and cosplay'd as Kaguya Sumeragi(Code Geass: LotR R2)!! But I promise I will read your work.. later.. when I wake up.. lol! Yay, I'm soo excited... I wanna read your story now but.. well my parents are kinda getting mad at me now.. sooo uhm... I'll be reading it later then!
nerfracket
Jun. 15th, 2008 10:04 am (UTC)
Well, hell! I thought I'd just click and leave the window open and before I knew it I was reading. Excellent writing, Sinn! The way you establish those normal patterns of behaviour and then Ryoma's slow awakening is superbly done. On to the next bit before I bite all my nails off!!
iluxia
Jun. 16th, 2008 06:05 am (UTC)
Err, if you don't mind me asking.

What's LJ's word limit? Cuz there's this... well, I'm about to be finished with this, err, pret-ty long fic, so... yes. I wanted to ask someone who *cough* had experience.
sinnatious
Jun. 16th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)
It actually does it by bytes more so than words, so any links or html or pictures or emoticons will add to it, but I've found that you're generally pretty safe if you're under 10,000 words.

Oooo, longfic! *____*
iluxia
Jun. 17th, 2008 09:32 am (UTC)
Yes, longfic. Here. I juz posted.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )